New York
Students at Harlem Day Charter School drop everything and read after receiving six brand new books from The Book Fairy.

The opening moments of Book Expo America look like scenes from the day after Thanksgiving. Lines form inside the Javitz Center hours before the gates ever open. Veterans of the trade fair make maps and plans. Itineraries read like strange shopping lists – head straight to Harper Collins then to the 3400 aisle for new releases from Penguin then to table 10 for the Mo Willems signing.

At the end of the three day convention, attendees walk away with more than sore backs and swollen ankles. There is still work being done. People trade hand shakes, business cards and “So what do you do’s?” Publishes sit down with booksellers to strike deals on the fall releases. There are also expo featured conferences on the future of print and ebooks. Reasons for attending vary from person to person, but for Bess the Book Bus, it has always been about one thing- saying thank you.

Most of the year, Bess the Book Bus brings children incredible stories from authors. BEA is one of the few opportunities to bring authors incredible stories from our children. It has become a tradition to share our successes with the people who create the stories. Such valuable face-to-face time has made it possible to both strengthen existing relationships and foster new community partnerships.

In 2009, a school librarian was shocked when she saw Bess the Book Bus on The Early Show. She was shocked again three days later when she saw Jennifer Frances walking around BEA. Erin Blad/Johnson took the opportunity to approach Jennifer and explain the need for books at Harlem Day Charter School.

The eight-year-old school was seated at the base of the Taino Towers in Harlem. The building space is shared with a Head Start, Magic Johnson Computer Lab and Section 8 housing. More than 80 percent of the students live in poverty. Many live in the towers. Harlem Day is one of the few charter schools to have a full-service library. Bess the Book Bus would be one more way to help the students get books into their homes.

A book drive held by sponsors made it possible for each student to get two new books. The swine flu pandemic kept students from entering the bus that year, but it couldn’t keep the teachers from meeting us in NYC and bringing the books to the children they love. Bess the Book Bus returned the following year, and students received the full experience of getting on the bus and having a raucous story time. We were met with a surprise, music teacher Brian Duran wrote and performed a Bess the Book Bus song with his kindergarten class.


Brian Duran and kindergarteners from Harlem Day Charter School perform “Bess the Book Bus is Coming Today”

Students have mixed memories of Bess the Book Bus. Some remember what book they picked, while others remember the bus being green. One child said that all of the books in his home are from Bess the Book Bus. The 2011 Transitions/VSP Success is in Sight tour continued as we flew to New York City and took the A train to Harlem Day. As groups came to library, some instinctively headed outside to see the bus. Bess didn’t make the trip, but book shipments from Capstone Publishers and Townsend Press did. A free book fair was set up in the library and students came in small waves to pick their perfect books.

All week, third grader Korrin asked when it was going to be Book Fairy Day. The time finally came and it took two days for all of the students to pass through the library. A total of 4,239 books were given out. Each student received at least six books. Transitions/VSP also donated 35 vouchers for healthy sight. At the end of the event, teachers were able to pick from the remaining titles to build classroom libraries. It was extremely important get these books to the students and teachers. Harlem Day will be switching to Democracy Prep at the end of the school year, and new changes will take place.

The changes include increasing classroom sizes and disbanding the school’s library. Democracy Prep will be adopting the Accelerated Reading program, which utilizes a structured classroom library and additional testing to monitor reading levels. The program is widely used and recognized for its merits, The program is widely used and recognized for its merits, yet diminishes the importance of choice for children who are learning to read.

Richard Allington’s three year study showed that children in low income areas with little access to books that had the opportunity to choose their own books for summer reading had gains equal to or surpassing that of children given three years of intensive instruction during the summer. Fortunately, we were able to give our kids that choice again this year.

The books each student selected will become the basis for the home libraries, books that they love and can read again and again. Bess the Book Bus is on the road again with stops in Cincinnati and Detroit, then west to Colorado. Be sure to follow Bess the Book Bus on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube for daily updates